Musical virtuosity

Just struck by the thought that for most of my life, ‘big artists’ often were associated with technical virtuosity. I’m thinking of instrumental solos - Bonham, Paice, Baker - for drums, Clapton, Page, Slash etc for guitar…you get the idea.
Do modern A-list artists have similar technical skills - I genuinely don’t know…

I can’t answer the question, but I certainly recognise your observation, certainly across many a rock band and prog rock band, and indeed in classical music.

I feel that instrumental virtuosity is not necessarily related to musical ability/talent/feel etc.

A different sort of guitar and music, but Leo Kottke’s ‘6 & 12 String Guitar’ (released by the US label Takoma in about 1967) has truly astonishing, yet highly musical, playing. Think bluegrass on steroids, and you might be halfway there. The liner notes on the record sleeve says that there are no overdubs (and video footage from the time which is posted online bears out that Kottke is a phenomenon).

Thankfully, the LP is still in print (in the USA, at least) and I have just ordered a brand new copy (my third?) from Amazon US. (I take obsessive care of LPs, but I have simply worn out previous copies from playing them so often.)

Leo Kottke has recorded many records since, but this one (his first) is certainly the place to start. And I have no idea why he is so comparatively little known, here in the UK at least.

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Hmm, my impression is the opposite,

Really! I can name some players who can say more with one or two notes than some " million notes per minute" players can manage in a career.

Occasionally a few players can combine both, but quite rarely imo.

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Not sure what speed of playing / number of notes has to do with virtuosity? Certainly wasn’t my take on it. Playing just two notes surely can be done with virtuosity, whereas playing 1000 in a secongpd might not. Perhaps we need a definition of virtuoso!

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I’m not sure ‘shredding’ counts as virtuosity.
Hope not. Not what I take the word to mean.


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Joe Satriani is a perfect example of somebody who plays a lot of notes per second.

But, not musical in the slightest. IMO.

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The OP mentioned technical skill, which, to me, means playing very quickly. But I get your point re virtuosity.

I listen to and enjoy occasionally, Joe Bonamassa for example. He is clearly an incredible player, but musically and emotionally he lacks something you can’t teach. Difficult to define but easy to recognise.

Paul Kossoff on the other hand was a very basic player. ( His own admission). He could make your hairs stand on end or make you cry with just a few notes. That’s what makes music so great imho.

Some of the best technical players are not necessarily good musicians.


The thread title says virtuosity, and whilst speed is a skill, there is much more skill in playing a musical instrument well, and virtuosity surely cones from a musician’s feel fore the music, and her or his skill in making the instrument ‘sing’.

But the OP explains in his post he actually means ‘Technical Virtuosity’.

Listen to recordings of Arthur Grumiaux or Nathan Milstein play JS Bach’s (six) Solo Violin Sonatas and Partitas, and you will get a good idea of what virtuosity means. It is truly astounding. No overdubbing or studio tricks there.

I prefer Milstein . He made two recordings some 30 years apart, for EMI and DGG. The latter set has just been rereleased by DGG on three LPs in a numbered limited edition. So now’s your chance, boys and girls. Be quick, or be sorry.

If you don’t know it, the music is some 300 years old, but could have been written yesterday. There is no other music like it, apart from Bach’s own (six) Solo Cello Suites. There are many great recordings of these too - Mstislav Rostropovich, Heinrich Schiff, Pierre Fournier, to name a few. The Cello Suites had been largely forgotten at the start of the last Century, but were revived by the genius who was Pablo Casals. He made an early recording of them in fairly primitive sound, so probably a collector’s item, and I’m not even sure if the recordings are still available now.

Hope this helps. Wonderful, life-changing music.


Bonamassa & Satriani. Imagine a duet. God forgive us! :flushed:


Every generation has them. Just watch Gwenifer Raymond play Hell for Certain in her flat during lockdown and you can see what one guitarist is capable of . Plenty others out there, you may not hear of them as often as music isn’t as prominent for cultural icons as it once was and lots are not in the limelight as much.

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Do you think there’s a difference between technical virtuosity and instrumental virtuosity ?

The three most commercially successful groups (in terms of album sales, anyway) were The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd.

Zep obviously comprised four incredibly virtuosic individuals. But they harnessed that ability and talent to brilliant songwriting and stagecraft. They played in unity, not as individuals.

Pink Floyd had one virtuoso player (Gilmour) but he was never a shredder and was more about feel than speed or technique; and none of their songs are particularly complicated and despite the Floyd’s reputation as aloof technocrats, they valued ‘the feel’ above mere technique.

The Beatles, the most successful and influential band ever – and arguably the best – were definitely not virtuosi, except perhaps for Macca on bass. But that didn’t matter. They played as a unit, and were/are unsurpassable.

Musical virtuosity doesn’t really mean very much outside of the context of classical or jazz. Shredders like Satriani and Bonomassa are nobodies – who will remember them in a century’s time? whereas Hendrix, EVH, Page, Green (P) and Gilmour will still be giving the punters goosebumps.


Still. Mccartney was the only one who could sit down at a piano and write a proper song.


The Beatles equivalent of Gary Barlow. :joy:

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